Does San Antonio, Texas, seem like the right place to launch a hybrid car to you? Texas is land of the pickup truck, land of the cattle ranch, land of the oil wells, with gasoline prices often as much as thirty cents lower than the national average. It’s hard to imagine a hybrid becoming trendy here. But Honda says it makes perfect sense as the place to launch its 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid, so that's where I went.
As old as the cliché is, everything’s still bigger in Texas. To Honda, the Accord Hybrid is big. It may not have a big engine or a lot of cargo space (three cubic feet less trunk space than the gasoline model), but it does have something that no other four-door sedan has: a 50-mpg city EPA rating. Honda thinks that number is a game changer. And here's another one: 673 miles. That's the combined gas-electric driving range of the new Accord Hybrid. Those are big, all right.
A Honda Accord Hybrid makes so much sense, you might be surprised to learn that there isn’t already one on the market. In fact, there was one on the market in the early 2000s, but that model mated an electric motor to a V-6 engine, and it was focused more on providing power than avoiding high fuel costs. Now, Honda is unveiling its 2014 Accord Hybrid, and it's come back with a bang. The new system has not one but two electric motors, to give it that all-important 50 mpg in the city, making it the most fuel efficient four-door sedan in production today.
Honda accomplished this feat with a combination of several fuel-efficient technologies. Its Atkinson cycle engine has slightly different valve timing than other gasoline engines, which helps make it more efficient. It has regenerative braking technology allows the Accord Hybrid’s generator to recapture energy when the car is coasting or coming to a stop, which can help extend its battery-only range.
Honda’s biggest innovation, though, is its two-motor hybrid system, also seen in the 2014 Honda Accord Plug-in.
Honda is at pains to emphasize how seamless this process is. Here's a summary of how it works: The first motor, called the drive motor, propels the wheels. The second one, the generator motor, is connected to the engine and supplies electrical energy to the drive motor and the car’s battery. In this setup, the engine is only rarely connected to the wheels, when cruising at medium to high speeds, for instance. Otherwise, the car will roll along in Hybrid mode (the default mode) or EV mode. EV mode, where the Accord Hybrid runs on power from the battery alone, can last up to a couple of miles in city driving, and once the battery is depleted the car will automatically switch back to Hybrid mode, where the electric motors get a boost from the Accord Hybrid’s 141-horsepower 2.0-liter engine.
With all its various technologies, talk of the Accord Hybrid can get a little academic. So what’s it like to actually drive the thing?
Composed on the Road, Communicative InsideThe Accord Hybrid may not be the kind of car you’d drive around the winding roads of Texas hill country if you could pick anything, but it was stable and sure-footed, and it handled the bends in the road with the composure of a much sportier car. It was also comfortable and not burdened by the cheesy eco-friendly interiors some hybrid cars insist on. No, here you can have comfortable leather seats (standard in EX-L and Touring trim levels) and sleek piano black accents on the dashboard and steering wheel. An eight-inch driver information display comes standard and will show you real-time fuel economy numbers.
A rearview camera is also standard. Instead of feeling self-consciously green, the Accord Hybrid just feels like a regular car: one with slightly decreased trunk space and terrific fuel economy.
So back to that 50-mpg rating: how real is it? Honda is so proud of its class-leading efficiency rating that practically every room the journalists were shepherded into during the two-day trip had a giant “50 MPG ACCORD!” banner hanging in it. The social media hashtag for the drive was #50mpgaccord, and as we stepped into our cars for the morning jaunt, Honda PR reps were on hand to remind us that the cars were rated at, you guessed it, 50 mpg in the city.
Real-World Numbers up to 80 MPGWith all that hype, I almost expected the Accord Hybrid to fall short, kind of a too-good-to-be-true situation. But on my two-hour morning drive I matched the 47 mpg combined rating (our drive was mostly on country roads with 55-mph speed limits), and on an afternoon city driving loop I saw indicated fuel economy numbers in the mid-60s. Some other journalists got 70 or 80 mpg on the same loop.
The 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid may be every bit as good as Honda says it is, but that still doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the only logical choice for hybrid buyers. It drives better than most of its competitors and has better EPA ratings than all of them. But it’s also a little on the pricey end of the sedans-turned-green segment (the Hyundai Sonata, Ford Fusion, and Toyota Camry hybrid models all start in the mid-$26,000 range) and suffers from slightly boring styling. Even with those marks against it, the 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid seems poised to take the hybrid market by storm.
2014 Honda Accord HybridBase price: $29,845
Engine: 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle DOHC I-4, 141 horsepower, 122 pound-feet of torque;
Total hybrid system power 196 hp
Transmission: Electric continuously variable (E-CVT)
Fuel economy: 50 mpg city/45 mpg highway
My favorite standard feature: Eight-inch driver information display with fuel efficiency data
Option I can’t live without: Leather-trimmed seats (standard in EX-L and Touring models)
You might also be considering: Ford Fusion Hybrid, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid